Bored? Good!

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When I decided to (semi) retire, besides being afraid I’d run out of money and become a bag lady, I was afraid of being bored. I preemptively researched places to volunteer, concerts, restaurants to try in my new city.

Because I have had some kind of job since I was 15, I could not even imagine endless days of not working.

I’ve been afraid of boredom since I was a girl. After all, when I’d complain to my parents that I was bored, they would quickly warn me they had an endless number of chores with which to fill my young hours. So boredom was something to be punished.

Even today, anything is better than boredom.

I fill my inbox with subscriptions and, in the rare moments I don’t have the mental capacity to read, I play endless games of Dots or Minesweeper on my mobile devices. Because I’m afraid that if I don’t fill my mind with activity, it will be the beginning of mental and emotional decline.

I recently read an article that has me rethinking that notion. In it, British psychoanalytical writer Adam Phillips, defines boredom as it starts in childhood:

“Every adult remembers, among many other things, the great ennui of childhood, and every child’s life is punctuated by spells of boredom: that state of suspended anticipation in which things are started and nothing begins, the mood of diffuse restlessness which contains that most absurd and paradoxical wish, the wish for a desire.”

Phillips argues that boredom serves a purpose:

“Boredom, I think, protects the individual, makes tolerable for him the impossible experience of waiting for something without knowing what it could be. So that the paradox of the waiting that goes on in boredom is that the individual does not know what he was waiting for until he finds it, and that often he does not know what he is waiting… Clearly, we should speak not of boredom, but of boredoms, because the notion itself includes a multiplicity of moods and feelings that resist analysis; and this, we can say, is integral to the function of boredom as a kind of blank condensation of psychic life.”

Phillips posits that boredom is full of possibilities because it challenges us with simply “being.”

And that can be terrifying.

When my mother was dying, she couldn’t focus on a book or even on the television.

“This is boring,” she said from her hospital bed.

Who knew that dying could be boring? And yet, maybe it has to be. Without filling time with activity, it allows the mind to open, to cast about among possibilities, to settle on what it is one wants to do, ie let go of life.

When you are bored, often it is because you are tired of your own company. But at the important times of life, whether it is dying or crisis, you had better be able to spend time with yourself.

I may need to practice boredom, just as I do meditation, although it seems the opposite of meditation, in which I focus on my breath and a chant. With boredom, it is the very lack of focus that brings possibilities.

So maybe my new retirement goal – although I still don’t want to run through my money and be a bag lady – is to leave space to be bored.

Boredom

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